AFL season slashed due to coronavirus


MELBOURNE (Reuters) - The Australian Football League (AFL) will cut its season back and executives may take pay cuts to keep the country's richest sports competition running amid the spread of the coronavirus, its chief executive said on Monday.

The top flight Australian Rules football season is set to open in Melbourne on Thursday but the coronavirus has thrown the entire championship into doubt.

AFL boss Gillon McLachlan said the 18-team competition's regular season would be reduced to 17 rounds of matches from its usual 22.

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Barring the opening four rounds, the schedule will need to be re-jigged, he added.

"We have flexibility now with a 17-round season that buys us more time," McLachlan told reporters in Melbourne on Monday.

"If it’s done by the end of September, fabulous, but if we need more time, we’ll do that."

The league is awaiting the result of a coronavirus test for one of its players, Collingwood Magpies captain Scott Pendlebury, who had self-isolated after showing symptoms.

McLachlan said a positive test result for Pendlebury would mean the entire Collingwood club would need to be tested and quarantined and the season-opening round would be abandoned "for the integrity of the competition".

The AFL has already banned fans indefinitely from matches following government advice to shut down events involving crowds of 500 or more.

The AFL is one of the world's most attended sports competitions and had average crowds of about 35,000 last year.

(Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

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